Recommended reading: Zero to One

tl;dr: Innovation is a step from 0 to 1 – only a revolutionary break with the present allows true innovation. Although this is more difficult to implement than spreading existing ideas, it is also far more sustainable and successful.

Peter Thiel, originally from Frankfurt am Main, is one of the most successful and influential investors and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. He had his first great success with PayPal, which he founded together with Elon Musk, among others. He was also the first investor on Facebook and founded Palantir.

In 2014, together with Blake Masters, he wrote the book Zero to One, based on a lecture he gave at Stanford University. It begins with the question of what personal convictions one has, which very few people would agree with. The question can be related to companies by asking: Which promising company has not yet been founded?

Innovation instead of globalisation

His own answer to the question is that most people would believe that the future is determined by globalisation – but in fact it is technology. Only technology is in the position to bring mankind forward permanently and sustainably.

The title of the book also refers to this idea: Innovation as a step into the unknown and new (from 0 to 1) is preferable to spreading what already exists (from 1 to n). However, this requires a positive view of the future and confidence in one's own ability to shape the future. Thiel calls this optimism. This way of thinking was, for example, the driving force behind the NASA space program and brought mankind to the moon. Since the 1980s, however, it has increasingly been replaced by other views.

Modern Europe, for example, is characterised by vague optimism: One is sure that the future will be better than the present, but nobody knows what can be done for it. What is even worse, however, is the indeterminate and certain pessimism, in which one assumes that the future will get worse, but does not know what can be done about it, except at best to prepare for the catastrophe.

Monopolies are desirable

He goes on to say that monopolies are considered bad by many people. In fact, however, this is not the case, because monopolies are never permanent because of the rapidly changing world, but they do enable innovation better than a highly competitive market. This plays along with Google founder Larry Page's conviction that a product must be at least ten times as good, otherwise it is not worth developing.

One quickly notices in the book that Thiel thinks on a large scale. We need to think revolutionary and different in order to be innovative, just as we did before the bursting of the dotcom bubble at the turn of the millennium. Space exploration is a much better example of innovation than most of the technical achievements of the past 30 years.

This sounds very different from the usual lean startup literature, which recommends avoiding any risk and instead proceeding iteratively and consulting the market. Real innovation does not function evolutionarily, but exclusively in a revolutionary way.

Theory and practice

Anyone who has read the biography of Elon Musk presented in Recommended reading: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future increasingly gets the feeling when reading Zero to One of already having learned the theory for the practive by Elon Musk. Thiel and Musk both don't think much of accepting limits, but rather create their own version of reality.

Steve Jobs described this as a dent in the universe, and he was also a representative of this way of thinking. It is striking that perhaps the three most successful entrepreneurs in modern IT have little in common with the lean startup thesis disseminated by Eric Ries, among others. It may therefore be necessary to reconsider one's own view.

All in all, the book by Peter Thiel is extremely worth reading, especially in connection with the biography of Elon Musk.

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Golo Roden

Founder, CTO, and managing partner

Since we want to deliver elegant yet simple solutions of high quality for complex problems, we care about details with love: things are done when they are done, and we give them the time they need to mature.